Privacy will die to deliver us the thinking and knowing computer

Anton Ioffe - October 30th 2023 - 6 minutes read

In this digital age where advanced technology drives every facet of our lives, we are introduced to a rather paradoxical situation. We stand at a crossroads, where the marvels of artificial intelligence and machine learning promise a future of unimaginable possibilities, yet their insatiable hunger for personal data threatens the sanctity of our personal privacy. In this thought-provoking piece, we will deep-dive into this conundrum, exploring the mechanics of advanced technology, weighing the trade-offs between technological convenience and privacy, and pondering upon the future of privacy in this rapidly evolving landscape. Join us as we navigate the compelling narrative of the death and potential rebirth of privacy in a world committed to fostering the thinking and knowing computer.

The Cost of Advanced Technology: The Death of Privacy

As the relentless wheels of progress turn, an uneasy truth becomes increasingly glaring: Our push towards AI, machine learning, and sophisticated tech may be inadvertently paving the road towards the demise of privacy. As a result of these developments, an alarming majority of Americans feel that their activities, both online and offline, are under constant surveillance by corporations and the government alike. This surveillance culture is so pervasive that approximately 60% of U.S adults concede that avoiding data collection amidst their daily routines is implausible.

Advanced technologies, such as AI and Machine Learning, necessitate massive amounts of data for efficient operation. Consequently, companies often collect more data than users anticipate, eventually selling this information to unknown entities, likely advertisers. For instance, acquiring the latest innovation in technology requires a trade-off where users must often wrestle with the concern that they are supplying the company with a rich source of personal data. This accumulation and commodification of personal data coerces users into a position where they are perpetually marketed at, leading to a lack of control and growing concern over how these entities utilize their data.

Given the above, it's evident that the push for smarter and more sophisticated technology has us teetering on the razors' edge of a profound ethical question: Are we prepared to compromise our privacy for technological revolution? It can indeed be argued that technology is exacerbating the death of privacy. However, in lieu of technological reversals or halts, it's possible that well-structured data privacy laws could strike a balance between harnessing the full potential of technology and diluting the abuse of personal data. Can privacy coexist within the framework of progressive technology, or are we indeed witnessing the death of privacy consequent to the birth of a thinking, knowing computer? Only time, and the continued evolution of technology, will tell.

The Knowing Computer Vs. Privacy: An Inevitable Clash

Knowing computers function on a wealth of user data to form algorithm-based responses. They analyze the patterns in our behaviors, draw inferences from these patterns, and anticipate our needs, desires, and preferences. This ability to understand and predict is seen as 'thinking' and 'knowing'. However, this process necessitates comprehensive access to personal data ranging from online behavior to personal histories. It's this prerequisite that introduces the conflict between these advanced technological feats and our personal privacy rights.

Data minimization, promoted by companies like Apple, can offer one solution, balancing the requirements of machine learning with the right to privacy. It revolves around only collecting the personal data necessary to deliver the needed service. Whenever possible, data processing and analysis occur on the device, limiting the amount of data leaving the user's control. Despite these efforts, the fact remains: to make our computers 'intelligent', they need our data.

The clash between privacy and knowing computers isn't simply a matter of what is being collected, but also how the information is stored, used, and potentially, misused; both by private corporations and government entities. Many American consumers express a lack of confidence in companies' ability to handle their data responsibly. This intersection of technology and privacy raises new questions about the architecture of privacy laws, underlining their role not to stifle technology but to prevent misuse and protect citizens. The success of knowing computers does not necessitate the death of privacy, but rather, the evolution of our understanding and handling of personal data.

Weighing the Pros and Cons: Convenience Vs. Privacy

Data-driven products and services, including software and internet-connected devices, claim they can deliver increased convenience and even improve lifestyle and wellbeing. However, the crucial question persists, do the benefits outweigh the cost to our privacy? Despite the utility of these services, a significant 81% of U.S. adults express concerns about the extent to which their data is collected by these companies, with 79% even wary about how it's utilized. The communal sense of privacy infringement seems to exceed the perceived advantages, suggesting that many Americans don't believe they're getting a fair deal.

The concept of convenience is often closely tied with time-saving, personalization, and hassle-free interactions. In the digital sphere, this means allowing apps and software permissions for better service provision. But in the process, the privacy trade-off is often underestimated, leading to 'notification fatigue,' a condition where the user simply accepts the numerous permission requests rather than opting out. By default, accounts and apps could start off private without any permissions given, in a so-called 'privacy by default' model. This allows users to consent to or opt into settings as and when they feel comfortable.

Data security is a significant concern, and the consensus is that current data collection methods pose more risks than benefits. Balancing the scales is a difficult task. A well-written privacy law could indeed ensure the responsible data management and rights of consumers without impeding technological progress. Ultimately, it's not about dismissing technology but participating in a digital society consciously and confidently, knowing personal data will be handled with discretion and respect. Privacy isn't ‘dying’ – it needs to evolve and adapt, mirroring the progress and intelligence of the very technology that challenges it.

The Future of Privacy and Advanced Technology: Transparent Algorithms and New Privacy Norms

In the near future, we may see a pivot towards new privacy norms that prioritize consumer protection without stifening the advancement of technology. Current national privacy laws have a varied reach and efficacy. Ideally, comprehensive legislature would give users control over their data, with opt-in and "privacy by default" models. However, these concepts have not yet found their way into the majority of privacy laws, with many leaning towards notification systems that can lead users to develop "notification fatigue" and simply accept the status quo. The integration of automatic opt-out tools could be a feasible solution. Meanwhile, experts continue to lobby for the right of individuals to take legal action against companies that violate privacy.

Technological advances are also bound to have a profound impact on the future of privacy. The explosion of data concerns extends beyond the surface of data collection and sales to deeper issues involving algorithm transparency. Currently, many of these zones are gray areas, unchartered by legislators. Laws need to evolve to tackle algorithm transparency, among other issues, and set clear rules for sectors currently unregulated, such as the use of facial recognition technology by government entities. The goal of such legislation would be to encourage the development of less privacy-hostile products and services.

Efforts are underway for more democratic control over data. A notable example comes from Ashkan Soltani, former chief technologist at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who proposed a solution with Global Privacy Control (GPC), paving the way for an individual to opt-out of data sales at the browser or device level. Latest gizmos incorporating these features could provide a peace of mind to consumers, ensuring that their data isn't being exploited unknowingly. The success of such initiatives in establishing new privacy norms would largely depend on the cooperation of various stakeholders; government, organizations, and users alike. It indeed presents a case for optimism against the prevalent "privacy is dead" narrative.


In this article, the author explores the growing conflict between advanced technology and personal privacy. As artificial intelligence and machine learning continue to develop, the need for personal data becomes increasingly invasive, leading to concerns about surveillance and data misuse. While there is a trade-off between convenience and privacy, the author suggests that well-structured data privacy laws can strike a balance, preventing abuse while still harnessing the potential of technology. The future of privacy lies in new privacy norms, transparent algorithms, and individual control over data, offering hope for a more privacy-conscious digital society.

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